I burned the last of my telegrams in the drawing room fire and sat back on my heels to contemplate the interesting turns this case took between the finding of an innocuous letter and the shocking gunfire in a quiet London square. On a legal level I was a bit uncomfortable with some of the liberties we had taken with the law. It's all very well to say that we were preserving diplomatic relations by covering up the deeds of the Baron.
The ties between Germany and England were strong but I feared that England was growing complacent while the amalgamation of the German states fostered their increasing sense of unity. Not to mention the growing ambition to face England as an equal partner. Events were moving slowly but inextricably towards a confrontation that promised to be as explosive as the events at the Embassy.
"You are very pensive, Sherlock." John's voice came from the stairs from which I had been unconsciously tracking the sound of his steps.
"Just thinking about the future and whether or not England is ready for the changes that are coming." I rose and took off my dressing gown, throwing it on the settee and reaching for my dinner jacket. But Watson was there first and he held it for me while I slipped my arms into the sleeves.
His hands slipped from my shoulders to my waist, catching me into a hug that told me he was still not completely recovered from our ordeal two days before. "That thought has crossed my mind as well, Sherlock. When I listen to what my patients say about the world, I fear they see through rose tinted spectacles. Perhaps it is my military experience that leads me to read between the lines but the papers are full of events in the younger nations who grow ever more powerful and will soon be demanding a greater share of the world."
I turned in his arms and held him tightly. "I too fear the blinkers that our leaders appear to be wearing. Perhaps tonight we can query Mycroft as to his department's plans for the future."
"Your brother strikes me as a man who is always looking towards the future." John leaned back a little, letting me take his weight. Just one of the many ways he shows me of his trust. "I hope this contretemps will herald a new watchfulness for our government."
"I hope so, John." I stole a kiss from the man who holds my heart. He'd already had a glass of sherry while he was dressing and the sharp tang of the liquor accented his normal taste.
"Hm-m-m, Sherlock, what a lovely appetizer for our upcoming dinner. Is it almost time to go pick up Josiah and David?" Watson smiled up at me and caressed my cheek with his fingers before brushing them across my lips.
I nipped them as they went by then reluctantly let Watson go. "Indeed it is. I noticed that the driver and carriage Mycroft insisted on sending arrived a few moments ago. Mrs. Hudson is on her way up to tell us."
John chuckled and settled his waistcoat that had become slightly disheveled in our embrace. I hid a smile while straightening my own clothes. These little tête-à-tête's were always so enjoyable. In the back of my mind, I decided there and then to plan some time in the country where we could be alone. I needed time to walk in the open air and clear my mind of this case. Putting myself into the Baron's mind had left residual contaminants that I needed to purge.
"Holmes?" John had his coat on already and was patiently waiting for me to stop thinking and start moving.
"Sorry, Watson, I promise not to be so inattentive at dinner."
He held my coat for me and handed me my silk muffler with a stern look that told me to put it on and make no demurs. I meekly slung it around my throat and tucked it in while he tried to hide a smile that told me he saw right through me. I was very lucky to have such a beautiful guardian of my health. He takes great good care of me.
The carriage was much more luxurious than we were used to and I caught John smoothing his hand across the plush fabric. The hansom cabs that we normally patronized were not up to these standards. Mentally, I upgraded our vacation to a manor house rather than the cottage in Cornwall where first we loved. John deserves only the best accommodations.
We reached the Harbottles within a few moments and the driver went up to the alley entrance and knocked. The door opened immediately and Josiah emerged with his arm still in the black silk sling. David followed, locking up and testing the knob to be sure it was secure. John leaned forward and pushed the carriage door open, calling out to Josiah to be careful of his footwork. The hoarfrost had made the cobblestones slippery and David laughingly hurried to balance his partner while the driver trailed behind to catch any falls.
When we were all settled and on our way, I noticed David's high color and when he broke into speech, I was not surprised that he had exciting news.
"Uncle John, Mr. Holmes, you'll never guess what happened today." His smile lit up the dim carriage. "The Earl of Gloucester has made an offer on the fifteenth century missal. A positively obscene amount of money! Plus he wants several other items."
"Congratulations! What a wonderful windfall for you." John smiled.
Josiah chuckled. "It will almost recoup the amount we paid for the entire collection so we can take our time with the rest of the books and find the right buyers for them."
"And were there any medical texts within the late Duke's collection?" I asked.
"Yes there were, Holmes. I have not forgotten John's penchant for the ancient writings. David brought several of our catalogs with him, one for you and one for Wenton." Josiah chuckled while David patted the pocket of his outer coat with a sunny grin that warmed the entire carriage.
Our arrival at Mycroft's quite surprised me for the journey had never seemed so short before. Many things about this case had contrived to upset my natural balance. I mused on the implications while the butler took our hats and coats before showing us to Mycroft's library. Emotions that I had declared as useless to detection had in this case spurred all of us to heroic or in the case of the Baron, demonic measures.
An interesting thought and one that I would pursue later. For now, Mycroft was rising from one of the wing chairs by the fire while admonishing Wenton to stay seated in the other. The patient was well cocooned with pillows and blankets. While not his usual energetic self, he still greeted us with an engaging smile and firm handshake. Watson immediately asked him of his treatment while David listened and they spoke while Josiah and I followed Mycroft to the sideboard and the liquor decanters.
With our favorite beverages in hand, we seated ourselves near the fire. Mycroft was his normal self, listening to our conversation but partaking of speech sparingly. Something was different about him but I could not put my finger on it until David laughed up into Stephen's face from his perch on the footstool nearest the fire.
Stephen's laughter blended with David's and I caught a fleeting look of pride on my brother's face. With a shock, I realized that he was responding to Stephen in the same way that I know I respond to John. Even to the use of his first name. It was a revelation that I had not suspected. Casting my mind back over our meetings in the last week, I finally put all the pieces of our puzzle together.
His placid acceptance of my finally asking for my portion of our Father's estate should have teased my deductive powers but I was too caught up in the throes of early passion to note it except with relief. Then there was Wenton's call back from Germany after only six months when normally my brother's agents are posted for two years at a time. And the familiarity that Stephen had with my brother's home and office up to and including which whiskey he preferred.
All the clues to my brother's inner emotional life had been laid out for those with eyes to see. I had been deaf and blind indeed in my dealings with my older sibling. I wasn't sure just how to let him know that I approved his choice of lover. We were both such naturally cold-hearted men that it was not easy for either of us to let another into our lives. To let another see into our most intimate heart was hard indeed.
"Sherlock, what are you thinking so deeply about? I do not believe that you have heard a word we have said in the last ten minutes." Mycroft's voice broke into my concentration.
Meeting his eyes, I smiled. "I was thinking of the nature of passion. This case seems to have touched on the darker sides of that most generous of emotions." All their eyes were trained on me now. "There is your and Stephen's passion for guarding England's secrets. My passion for solving mysteries. John's deep need to heal the sick. Josiah and David's love of old books. The Baron's desire to advance Germany's interests. All those passions colliding together in one tangled inquiry that could have led to any of our deaths."
John shuddered next to me and I wished with all my heart that I could take his hand in mine in front of these friends. But I was not yet that sure of my untangling of my brother's or Stephen's emotions. Perhaps someday, I would feel free enough to do so but that time was not now. Interesting that I felt no constraints before Josiah or David.
"Indeed, passion may be held accountable for quite half the crime in London." My brother nodded. "Perhaps even of the world as a whole. But we would all be the poorer if our passions were suddenly taken away from us. They are what add the zest to our lives. Like a good curry lends its flavor to plain rice. And speaking of rice, I believe that Roberts has come to announce dinner."
The butler bowed his head. "Dinner is served, gentlemen."
It took us a little time to unwrap Stephen from his comfortable nest but Mycroft watched John like a hawk while he helped the wounded man out of the chair. I was growing more and more sure that my deductions as to their relationship were correct. It fed the warmth in my heart that John nurtured daily with his kisses and our daily lovemaking. It felt odd to think of my older brother as a sexual creature but then I'm quite sure that most of the world would never believe that I had any feelings at all.
I walked across the hall to the dining room still musing on the changes in my life since I'd let John know my secret heart. I could hardly wait until I had him alone so I could tell him of my findings. Smiling, I made a small wager to myself that he'd already figured it out. He sees emotions much more clearly than I do. We make a very good team.
I lay in my bed waiting for John to join me. He said he had something to fetch from his bedroom so I had gone ahead and disrobed before sliding between the heated sheets. My thoughts went back over the relaxed conversation at the dinner table. We might have been friends for years instead of just weeks. David and Stephen had between the pair of them made us laugh again and again. I do not think that I have enjoyed a meal so much ever before in my life.
Why even I had managed a rather clever double-entendre that made my brother chuckle and the rest of the diners erupt into laughter. Perhaps I was not such a dull man as I had led myself to believe. But then, John inspires me to ever-higher heights of drollery. I chuckled to myself just as John opened the door and entered.
"You were inspired tonight, my love." He said, blue eyes gleaming in the firelight while he locked the door behind him.
"It was quite the nicest dinner to which I have ever gone. Except for those dinners when you and I can be alone." I watched avidly while he removed his robe and threw it over the slipper chair by the fire. He wore no nightshirt underneath so I got to watch him walk naked across the room to my bed.
The light flickered over his pale skin and I could see in the half-light that he was already erect. That sight always stiffens my own body to an aching hardness and it was no different this night. Holding back the covers, I welcomed him into my arms. We kissed slowly for long moments while our hands caressed shoulders and backs. The curry from dinner added something extra to his addicting taste and my tongue rubbed the roof of his mouth to catch the last trace of delicious spice.
He shivered at that caress and pushed me over onto my back so he could lie atop me, one lean leg between both of mine. The hair on his leg teased my organ to even greater hardness and when he paused to caress it with a salve slick hand, I had to hang on to my control or I would have spent myself prematurely.
"So very responsive, Sherlock. I love how you react to my touch." His murmur came from the long line of my throat where he was nibbling at suddenly sensitive skin.
"Your touch ... oh ... would bring a dead man back to life, John. Oh yes, there. Just there." I arched up into the hot wet mouth pleasuring my nipples.
"Not so, my love. It is your wanton nature finally coming to the surface." I could feel his smile against my chest just before he gently bit my left nipple.
I was panting now and trying to catch my breath while his fingers searched out those spots that made me want to lose control. "I do not think wanton is quite the right word, John."
"Oh yes, it is, beloved. Now, your brother surprised me tonight. When did you deduce that he and Stephen were lovers?" He slipped back up to kiss me again after he'd scooped up more of the cream from the jar he'd brought to bed with him so that he could anoint both our cocks to slippery perfection.
"Tonight. I should have caught on after Wenton was shot. My brother acted with too much tenderness for Stephen to be 'just' another agent. But my mind was too caught up in rejoicing at our survival." I arched up just enough to slide my cock against his.
"Ah, I wondered that night but the drug seemed to dull all my senses so I wasn't sure. I also was too relieved to really catch all the nuances." John straddled me and nudged our cocks into a slippery duel that hardened me almost to the point of release.
But his lovely long fingers squeezed me at just the right spot to prevent my premature climax. Both of his hands were slick with cream and he teased both of us, sitting back slightly so our cocks rose between us. The covers had been pushed back to the foot of the bed so I could see him clearly in the firelight and he'd never looked so beautiful to me before.
I watched him run a finger up and down my cock, watching it lengthen towards him as if to beg for more caresses. "I have a surprise for you, Sherlock. May I give it to you now?"
Hypnotized by his burning gaze, I managed a nod before he smiled and leaned down to kiss me. His hand ran up and down my cock gently before gripping it firmly. I truly had no idea what he had planned but when he sat back, I felt myself slide into quite the tightest place I had ever been.
His face bore a look of intense concentration and I was frozen in fear that he might hurt himself. However, when he finally came to rest on my thighs, his eyes opened with a fierce look of triumph. His heat was like nothing I had ever felt before and when he moved forward to kiss me and I felt the tight grip of his inner muscles, I think I moaned.
"Mine, Sherlock. No more waiting, my love. We might have either of us been hurt or killed." He took my lips with fervor before sitting back and encasing me again. "Your cock is mine. All mine and I want you inside me whenever we can manage it."
"Yours, John. Oh my God." He was moving a little more quickly and when I ventured to thrust up as he was coming down, his breath caught and a look of bliss crossed his face.
"Just there, Sherlock." He dropped his weight down onto me again and I remembered the prostate gland that we'd talked about, thrusting up again.
I must have inadvertently hit it because his moan was music to my ears. My hands slid up his thighs to catch his hips and the next time he came down, I thrust up harder. We were both panting now and I felt his inner muscles rippling around me. I was unsure how much more I could take of this exquisite torture when I realized that his own organ had received no attention since the moment he had taken me inside of him.
Sliding one hand from his hip, I caught the bobbing organ in a firm grip, the familiar girth filling my hand with his warmth. I milked it tenderly, the up and down slide of flesh on flesh intoxicating and I felt his muscles quiver both around me and within my grasp.
"Oh love." He panted out, freezing in place and coming in spurts over my stomach.
The contractions around me were so strong that he pulled my own climax from me at the same moment. I have never felt anything like it before. The sensation of emptying myself into him was beyond my experience. He slowly subsided onto my chest and my arms enfolded him to me. I was still lodged within him but I could feel myself beginning to soften and knew I would soon slip from him.
Moving us to our sides, I reached for the towel that we kept by the bed for cleaning ourselves. That movement was all it took and I slipped from his body. Holding the towel against him, I checked it with suddenly shaking hands. What if I had hurt him?
"You could never hurt me, Sherlock." His drowsy murmur reached my ears at the same time I saw there was no blood on the towel. "Loving me will never hurt me."
"I love you, John, more than words can say. Thank you for loving me."
The sleepy blue eyes opened and he held my gaze while his arms tightened about me. "I love you too, Sherlock. It has been six months since we first shared a kiss and I wanted to gift you with something new tonight."
My eyes welled with tears and I kissed him gently, unable to find the words to tell him how much his gift meant to me. But he knew as he always did, his hands drawing up the covers over us and soothing me to sleep against his shoulder. He rocked me slowly, his hands rubbing comforting circles on my back. Tomorrow, I would find the words to thank him.
Or perhaps I would let actions tell him instead. I nuzzled the sweat-dampened skin beneath my cheek. It was time to let go of my fears and accept John's love with all the joy I was capable of. Sleep stole over my senses and I drifted off with the sound of John's heartbeat like a lullaby for my ears.
Time to let go and love.
End of The Problem